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Published: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 13:26:48 -0400


Report Warns EU Member State Food Regulations Could Stall Growth

Sat, 20 Jan 2018 07:45:00 -0500

A combination of the impending Brexit and the apparent spread of lousy national food regulations across European Union member states is threatening the growth of Europe's borderless markets in food. That's the conclusion of a new report released last week by FoodDrinkEurope, an industry lobbying group. The EU, as a bloc, has no shortage of awful food laws. For example, Europe's so-called "kebab war" ended late last year only after the EU agreed to let makers of spit-cooked meat use phosphates in their food. But the FoodDrinkEurope report, Implementing the EU Food & Drink Industry Ambition for Growth & Jobs, argues that Brexit and other national regulations are making for a "difficult and uncertain climate" that threatens the "well-functioning Single Market" in Europe. "The Single Market is one of the EU's greatest achievements," the report declares, "but renationalisation, different interpretations and 'gold-plating' of EU laws increasingly lead to barriers for food and drink companies within the Single Market." (Gold-plating is a derisive term that refers to EU laws that are strengthened and become entrenched when EU member nations adopt them as their own.) Food and beverage makers in Europe have been skittish over the looming Brexit and what it will mean for companies that market food and drink both in the Britain and on the continent. But the apparent growth of regulations within EU member countries poses a separate—and perhaps greater—challenge. The FoodDrinkEurope report highlights some of these challenges, including discriminatory national food taxes that have been made under the guise of combating obesity. But there are countless others. In England, EU rules have contributed to food prices that are nearly twenty percent higher than they should be, as a recent report detailed. The EU has an 83-page definition for "Prosciutto di Parma," which I bemoaned here recently. Italy, birthplace of prosciutto, also has (as the headline of one of my columns last year put it) many crappy new food laws. In Portugal, a new law mandates that all public buildings that serve food—prisons, hospitals, schools, and the like—provide vegan food choices. And in Switzerland, the government has banned restaurants from boiling live lobsters for their customers. Speaking as someone who knows a thing or two about lobster, this is an incredibly stupid law. Lobsters likely lack the ability to feel pain. The law was based on the converse of that premise. While the Swiss law doesn't ban lobsters, it will probably make them more expensive, could make customers less likely to order them and, in turn, will make restaurants less likely to buy and serve them. In that way, the Swiss law will resonate beyond the country's borders; it's exactly the sort of law the FoodDrinkEurope report cautions against. Still, the Swiss lobster-boiling ban could have been worse. It was only adopted after another measure—"to ban all lobster imports to the country"—was scrapped. Swiss animal-rights activists are now seeking to ban imports of foie gras. Europe's food and beverage industry is the bloc's largest manufacturing industry, responsible, according to the FoodDrinkEurope report, for more than $1.3 billion in sales and employing more than four million people. It's the EU's largest employment sector and the world's largest food and beverage exporter. It's not difficult to imagine that a combination of overly burdensome EU regulations, a growing number of lousy national food laws in EU member countries, and a post-Brexit climate that includes trade barriers between Britain and the EU could combine to cause serious harm to the region's food and beverage industry. That outcome is one that should be avoided at all costs.[...]

Canada's Food Laws Ban the Best Burgers

Sat, 30 Dec 2017 08:00:00 -0500

My girlfriend and I spent the Christmas holiday in Vancouver, Canada this year. While there, we visited a bunch of nice sites, saw a good band, and ate some great food. On our last day in the city—Tuesday, which was also Boxing Day—we ate at Joe Forte's, an airy steakhouse just off the city's main tourist avenue, Robson Street. I was craving a hamburger and figured Forte's, which bills itself as a chophouse, was the place to go. My girlfriend ordered a steak sandwich, cooked medium. I ordered the burger, cooked medium. My burger was great in every single way possible except for the fact it wasn't cooked the way I'd requested. And that wasn't because the restaurant erred. Instead—as I was warned after ordering my burger medium—it's due to an awful Canadian law that says all restaurant hamburgers must be cooked until no longer pink. Even my response when our great server asked if we had any food allergies—"Overcooked burgers," I replied—got me no closer to a burger cooked my way. I have no doubt this regulation probably prevents some handful of harmful or even fatal cases of foodborne illness, which can occur if pathogens that may appear in ground beef are not killed off by cooking the beef to an internal temperature of at least 160F. But as a regulation, it's as arbitrary a decision as banning raw animal products such as oysters and sushi, raw produce such as sprouts and melons, and countless other foods that are definitely legal in Canada. In other words, the medium-hamburger ban is both dumb and wrong. With respect to its burgers, then, Canada is very different than the United States, where diners ordering a medium burger might notice a menu warning cautioning against eating some raw or lightly cooked foods. But if one looks past the specifics of that law, they'll notice Canada, just like the United States, has lots of terrible food laws, along with its share of food controversies. For example, I wrote last December about an awful proposal by lawmakers in Montreal to ban new restaurants, in a bid to protect existing ones. And in 2011 I blogged about a Canadian Wheat Board monopoly in Western Canada. When—in the course of writing my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable—I was looking for a foreign analog to an awful USDA enforcement action that forced an exceptional American sausage producer out of business, I found I needed look no further than Canada. Those are just a few of Canada's dumb food laws. I also learned this week about one of its stranger ongoing food controversies, which Canada's Globe and Mail reports was just settled after a decades-long fight. The battle concerns Prosciutto di Parma, the tasty cured Italian meat, and use of the word "Parma" to describe the food in Canada. The Italian term "di Parma" literally translates as "from Parma." When used in conjunction with prosciutto, it refers to prosciutto that's both from Parma and that meets the EU definition of "Prosciutto di Parma," a specifically defined term that's known as a protected designation of origin. The truly mind-numbing 83-page EU protected designation of origin rules for what is and isn't "Prosciutto di Parma," adopted in 1992, include the most tedious minutiae about pig breeds, feeding, slaughter, geographic boundaries, altitude, and the like. They also include nausea-inducing language like this: "The envisaged quantitative programming of protected production has to be integrated in a synergetic way with the qualitative classification requirements already introduced by the protection rules (qualitative analytical parameters that uniquely characterize Parma Ham and the production requirements in pig breeding)." Despite these fastidious and obnoxious EU rules, it turns out it's been illegal for Italian producers of Prosciutto di Parma to refer to their product as "Prosciutto di Parma" in Canada. That's because Canada's Maple Leaf Foods trademarked the term "Parma" in Canada in 1994. The company sells a "Parma" product there, t[...]

European Union Approves Weedkiller

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 15:31:00 -0500

The European Commission has extended the license for European farmers to use the popular weedkiller glyphosate by five years. That's good news: Every scientific committee and regulatory agency but one that has evaluated the safety of the glyphosate has found it safe for human beings and the natural environment. And the sole exception, a highly conflicted report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, was marked by confirmation bias and conflict of interest. So science and evidence won out over a massive disinformation campaign run by anti-pesticide and anti-GMO activists funded by the Big Organic. Naturally, those activists are furious that they were not able to scare the commission into a glyphosate ban. "Today's approval, even if only for five years, is a missed opportunity to get rid of this risky weedkiller and start to get farmers off the chemical treadmill," Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe told Agence France-Presse. Greenpeace's Franziska Achterberg added: "The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them." Sadly, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that the herbicide will be banned in his country. One of the most clear-eyed analysts of anti-technology disinformation campaigns is David Zaruk, who teaches risk communications at Université Saint-Louis Brussel. At his Risk-Monger blog, Zaruk pulls no punches about how close activists came to derailing evidence-based decision-making: Clearly the activists had the perfect storm with glyphosate. So many other interests collided over the last two years, with new trans-Atlantic partnerships of vile opportunists and silos of slime forming into armies of intolerance, including: • Anti-GMO American carpetbaggers salivating at removing the chief motivation for farmers to benefit from Roundup-Ready maize and soy by manipulating the European precautionary handicap. • American class-action lawyers seeking to exploit the EU's hazard-based regulatory approach to create a confusion over the safety of public health exposure to profit from lawsuits against industry. • Anti-industry activist groups from both sides of the Atlantic have united flush with funds from the burgeoning organic food industry lobby seeking to incapacitate conventional farming and create market-friendly conditions for their unsustainable agricultural production process. • An alarming scientific ignorance at the heart of the European Commission. Many of the activist groups involved in pushing their anti-evidence agenda were involved in removing the post of EU Chief Scientific Adviser just three years ago. • Agroecologists have been pining to return Europe to a pre-industrial Malthusian paradise, and banning the use of agri-technology was their first important step. Having their lunatics in charge of the European risk assessment process would have been the icing on the cake! Not just yet. Only time will tell if politicians and regulators can continue to resist such chemophobic campaigns.[...]

Europe's Anti-GMO Stance Is Killing Africans

Tue, 05 Sep 2017 06:42:00 -0400

Fifteen years ago, The Economist ran an article headlined "Better dead than GM-fed?" It focused on the refusal of some African countries to allow imports of American food aid, because it contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This was when extreme hunger threatened some 15 million people, before Africa's decade of economic growth spurred by high commodity prices as well as some economic reforms.

Some of the reasons for the refusal of U.S. food aid, such as Zambia's then-president Levy Mwanawasa's statement that GMOs were "poison," were just silly. American's have been eating GMO foods for decades and there is not an iota of evidence that GMOs are detrimental to health. Other reasons were more serious.

Much of Africa's agricultural produce is still destined for Europe and the European Union has been waging a war on GMO foods for decades. The reasons for the EU's anti-GMO stance, ostensibly, are health concerns. In reality, the EU is trying to protect its farmers against their more productive American competitors. Thus, were the U.S. food aid inadvertently to "contaminate" Africa's crops, Africans would be in trouble.

While imports of GMOs are not barred from Europe by law, the EU food labelling system obliges companies to indicate if the food or feed they produce contains GMOs. This labelling applies when GMOs account for at least 0.9 percent of the food or the feed. Since Europeans have been brainwashed into believing that GMO foods are unsafe, scary labelling could dampen European demand for African agricultural produce. As such, much of Africa has not only refused to grow GMOs, but also refused U.S. food aid.

Today, scholars can estimate the cost of Africa's refusal to grow GMO crops. According to a recent study in the journal PLoS One, delays in the introduction of disease-resistant cooking banana (matoke), insect-resistant cow pea, and corn (maize) "have resulted in significant economic and human health costs, including malnutrition and stunting."

"If Kenya had adopted GE [genetically engineered] corn in 2006," the study estimates, "between 440 and 4,000 lives could theoretically have been saved. Similarly, Uganda had the possibility in 2007 to introduce the black sigatoka resistant banana, thereby potentially saving between 500 and 5,500 lives over the past decade."

Each year of delay in the introduction of GMO crops to Africa increases the death count as well as revenue loss for African farmers. For example, insect-resistant Bt cowpea was supposed to become available to farmers in Benin, Niger and Nigeria this year. The authors of the study worry that anti-biotech activists could delay its introduction or postpone it indefinitely.

"A one-year delay in approval [of the insect-resistant Bt cowpea]," they estimate, "would especially harm Nigeria, as malnourishment is widespread there... [and] cost Nigeria about 33 million USD to 46 million USD and between 100 and 3,000 lives."

European restrictions on GMOs, the study argues, have serious costs. The same, however, goes for EU and U.S. agricultural subsidies, which undermine their African competitors and cost European and American taxpayers billions of dollars each year. I have a better idea. Let's keep our money and let African compete with us on an even playing field.

Emmanuel Macron an Intra-European Protectionist

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 07:00:00 -0400

Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year old French president, has had a difficult few weeks. First, the French voters rebelled against his attempt to give his wife, Brigitte, her own budget and staff. Over 200,000 citizens of the cash-strapped republic signed a public petition opposing the creation of the title and office of the First Lady and the proposal was put on ice. (If only the citizens of our cash-strapped republic could do the same.) Then it came out that Macron's personal makeup artist cost the French taxpayer over $30,000 in the last 100 days alone. The President's popularity has nosedived and that's before any of the blessed reforms that Macron promised to deliver to revive the moribund French economy unsettled the wasps' nest of the French public sector unions. And so, Macron has turned his sights to foreign policy and that most French of pursuits—protectionism. The advocates of the European Union have long argued that the EU is a force for economic liberalization. Beginning in 1958, the European Economic Community (i.e., the precursor to the EU) started to reduce barriers to the movement of goods throughout the Common Market. That has worked relatively well, although the total contribution of reduced intra-European tariffs to European growth is debatable, for it has taken place alongside global trade liberalization under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and, later, the World Trade Organization. Much progress was also made with regard to the movement of people. Unfortunately, many a European country is having second thoughts about the sustainability of the Schengen Treaty, which underpins that freedom. That's because in addition to facilitating the free movement of tourists and workers, Schengen is also facilitating free movement of Middle Eastern and North African terrorists, who have managed to sneak into Europe via relatively unprotected Greek, Italian and Spanish coastlines. Barbed wire fences have sprung up throughout Europe once more. When it comes to the provision of services, however, intra-European protectionism remains a serious problem. In the early 2000s, Frits Bolkestein, who was the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, proposed the so-called Bolkestein directive, which would have greatly liberalized trade in services in the EU. His initiative failed, which was particularly disappointing, considering that services account for a majority of economic output in all EU economies area. That said, the EU member states did agree on a compromise measure, which "allows people from poorer EU states (e. g., Poland) to work on contracts that need only guarantee the host country's (e.g., French) minimum wage." Income taxes and social contributions owed by these so-called "posted" workers can be paid in the home country—at, presumably, lower rates—and that has become too much for the French to bear. Macron has called the current system a "betrayal of the European spirit" and said that "it created unfair competition in wealthier nations like France and Germany." "The single European market and the free movement of workers," the French President continued, "is not meant to create a race to the bottom in terms of social regulations." Macron's move comes on the heels of French and German attempts to force Eastern European trucking companies to pay their truckers French and German wages, while transporting goods from Eastern Europe to, for example, Spain via the territories of France and Germany. (That would be equivalent to forcing a trucking company from Wyoming to pay its truckers higher wages in Arkansas, while en route to Louisiana.) This is, of course, blatant protectionism. It aims to eliminate the competitive advantage that Eastern European workers, who are less productive (and, therefore, worse paid) than workers in the West, enjoy over their Western counterparts. If Macron succeeds in his efforts to undermine intra-European competition (such as it is), he will have shown that he is not, [...]

Matt Welch Interviews Sen. Mike Lee, Kmele Foster, James Kirchick and More from 9-12 AM ET

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 08:32:00 -0400

This morning I am sitting in the guest-host chair for Stand UP! with Pete Dominick on Sirius XM Insight (channel 121) from 9-12 am ET. The guests are scheduled to include:

* James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, who will talk about President Donald Trump's trip to Europe last week.

* Nina Khrushcheva, author of The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey Into the Gulag of the Russian Mind. She will talk about Vladimir Putin and the continuum of Russian political leadership.

* Sen Mike Lee (R-Utah), author of Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government, who will talk about that book and also the prospects for Obamacare reform.

* Denny Dressman, author of Heard but not Seen: Richard Nixon, Frank Robinson and The All-Star Game's Most Debated Play. We will discuss Pete Rose knocking the shit out of Ray Fosse in 1970.

* Kmele Foster, impresario of FreeThink Media and The Fifth Column podcast (speaking of which, here's last week's, including a memorable lil' 4th of July rant from Kmele). We'll talk about, I dunno, race, media…maybe a little Austin Petersen.

Please call the show at any time, but especially in the Kmele hour: 1-877-974-7487.

Trump's Wrong on Trade With Germany and a Liability to the Anti-NATO Argument

Sun, 04 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400

I've got a few leftover thoughts about Donald Trump's trip to Europe. (Here's what I said about the Middle East portion.) As usual, I oppose both Trump and his mainstream critics. It's possible for both sides to be wrong in a dispute. First, trade. Trump famously said to Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Union, "The Germans are bad, very bad. Look at the millions of cars that they're selling in the USA. Horrible. We're gonna stop that." I'm hoping that Trump is a demagogue who really knows better, because I can't believe that anyone could be so ignorant or unintelligent as to think that selling cars to Americans is evidence of badness. I never dreamed that someone who offered me high-quality products was trying to harm me. (He also says Chinese exporters "rape" us.) It's not just basic economics he'd have to be ignorant of; he'd also have to be clueless that German automakers have built cars in the United States for quite a while (the VW Passat, BMW X Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class), most of them for export, at least in BMW's case. But even if they weren't building them here, who cares? It's been 241 years since Adam Smith showed that the wealth of nations (i.e., collections of individuals) equals access to products that make life better. "The division of labor"—one of the short list of things that make common people wealthy—"is limited by the extent of the market," Smith wrote. Global trade extends the market as far as possible—until intergalactic trade becomes feasible. It's been only slightly less time since David Ricardo spelled out the principle of comparative advantage, which further elaborated on the source of the gains from trade. (Spoiler alert: we prosper because of our differences, so we shouldn't want the government to "level the playing field.") The Wharton School surely covered those matters. Was Trump too busy giving freshmen swirlies to attend class? (Evidence for Trump's demagogy rather than ignorance is that his hotel rooms are appointed almost entirely with imported products.) Trump tweeted on his return from overseas, "We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany…. Very bad for U.S. This will change." But also found in Smith's The Wealth of Nations is this: "Nothing … can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade." Trump apparently does not know that the United States has run so-called deficits in good times and so-called surpluses in bad times, such as during the Great Depression. Come on, someone with a brain as good as Trump says his is must realize that any "deficit" in the merchandise account is a mirror image of a "surplus" in the capital account. By construction, all such accounts taken together must balance. When foreigners receive dollars for their exports to America, they have three options for how to use the money: buy American exports, invest here, or trade them to someone else who then faces the same options. They can't spend them at home, just as you can't spend euros at Kroger. Why does Trump want foreigners to buy American products rather than invest here? Investment improves our lives by creating new and better products. If we don't like that foreigners by Treasury bonds, i.e., lend money to the government, there's an easy and obvious solution: the government can stop borrowing. On top of everything else, Trump either does not understand or does not care that a 35 percent tariff on German cars would be a tax on Americans—and not just buyers of German cars. One more thing on trade. It's bad enough that Trump spouts such rubbish. But when his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, claims that Belgium's trade policies are better than Germany's, we have to wonder what the hell is going on. Under the European Union, both countries' have the same trade policies. Does he not know what Brexit was about? Now NATO. Trump has learned nothing over the past year. He admits that w[...]

The European Union Wants to Censor Hate Speech on Social Media

Tue, 23 May 2017 17:30:00 -0400

(image) In America, civil libertarians frequently have to remind citizens that there's no "hate speech" exemption to the First Amendment. But our First Amendment doesn't fly in Europe, and now the European Union (EU) may be about to mandate censorship rules for social media.

EU ministers today approved a plan that will require social media platforms and online video hosts to block and remove videos that contain "hate speech, incitement to hatred and content justifying terrorism from their platforms," according to Reuters. For now at least, this just covers videos, not text, images, or livestreaming.

It's not entirely clear whether Facebook or YouTube will have to censor videos posted by platform users in the United States to remain in compliance with the law. We do know that EU countries like Germany are just itching to levy huge fines—tens of millions of euros—on social media companies that haven't been quick to suppress hate speech. That kind of pressure would certainly encourage a very broad censorship regime on the part of the companies.

The new rule has been in the works for a while—part of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, a set of commercial media regulations. In addition to ordering the censorship of content, the EU wants to dabble in cultural protectionism: The proposal approved today mandates that 30 percent of the content of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime be from member countries. The recommendation was originally 20 percent, but EU ministers jacked it up.

This will be the EU's first attempt to adopt this sort of platform censorship. If the European Parliament approves the regulations, don't be surprised to see more.

Forget Marine Le Pen: The Very Idea of Europe Is Finished [Reason Podcast]

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 15:40:00 -0400

"We've known that when there isn't American leadership in Europe things go to hell pretty quickly and we get sucked into horrible wars whether or not we originally wanted to or not," says journalist James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. In the wake of Brexit, renewed nativism across the continent, and Putin's Russia grumbling to the east, Kirchick's thesis may well be tested in the coming years. In a wide-ranging and at times combative conversation with Nick Gillespie, the 33-year-old Kirchick talks about why the Enlightenment values of liberalism, free enterprise, and pluralism have come under attack in the very part of the world that created them and why it's in the United States' best interest to help maintain a politically stable and economically productive European Union. He also discusses how he came to write his bombshell 2008 New Republic story bringing to light former Rep. Ron Paul's controversial and racially charged newsletters, the changing meaning of Jewish identity in post-war America, and how the failure of the Iraq War affected his views on foreign policy. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Jamie, thanks for talking. James Kirchick: Thanks for having me. Nick Gillespie: You write that we're on the cusp of witnessing the end of Europe as we have known it for the past seven decades, a place of peace, prosperity, stability, cooperation, democracy, and social harmony. Give a sense of what's happening in Europe and why. James Kirchick: Yeah. 1989 was this momentous year, and you can say there are maybe three narratives that came out of that. One was perpetual peace in terms of security. WE had the triumph of democracy. There was regulated capitalism and potential and ongoing economic growth. We'd assume that these three ideals had really taken ahold in Europe. I think on all three, you see that they're being seriously challenged. On the first front from security, we see Russia is coming back as a aggressive force. On the question of democracy, we have the rise of illiberal populism, or illiberal democracy, as the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, calls it. Then, on the economic question, we've had hardly any growth in the Euro-zone countries since the financial crisis of 2008. I think these three ideals that we all believed had triumphed are now being seriously challenged across the continent. Nick Gillespie: Yeah, and it's worth thinking about between '89 and '91, where the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's pretty staggering to think that Europe, which had been at ... The countries in Europe had been at each other's throats for centuries. From 1945 on, there was a Cold War, and then a real thaw. You've written that the European Union is threatened by almost ten years of zero economic growth, a resurgent Russia, rising Islamic extremism, and the greatest mass movement of humanity since the late 40s. Are these issues intertwined? If so, how? James Kirchick: I think so in the sense that Europe needs to think of itself more as a geo-strategic power. This is why I'm going to talk about European integration. I'm less concerned about these sort of internal questions about how much power we give to Brussels about regulating certain business markets or what not, and the power[...]

France Election Preview: Terrorism, Socialism, Nationalist Socialism, and the Prospects for Economic Liberalization

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:26:00 -0400

The attack on a police bus on the Champs-Elysee in Paris yesterday, which killed two police officers and for which ISIS claimed responsibility, came while France's presidential candidates were participating in their last televised forum, and President Trump said today that he thought the attack would help the National Front's Marine Le Pen. "She's the strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump told the AP. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election." After the police attack, Le Pen called for the expulsion of all foreigners on terror watch lists. The suspected gunman in yesterday's attack, Karim Cheufri, is a French national who was questioned in February for allegedly making threats to kill police officers. Meanwhile, the center-right François Fillon, once the frontrunner before a scandal over a no-show job for his wife yielded calls for him to drop out, said "Islamic totalitarianism" ought to be the next president's top priority. François Hollande declared a war on terror after multiple coordinated ISIS-linked terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 killed 130 people. The French government followed up with warrantless raids, house arrests, limits on freedom of speech and assembly, and other security measures. The 2015 attacks helped the National Front outperform its polling in the first round of regional elections, but by the second round, a month after the attacks, the bounce appeared to have faded. Voters go to the polls Sunday for the first round and in early May for the second round—four candidates are polling at about 20 percent; Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. And in fact, both Le Pen and Mélenchon, a former Socialist who created his own party and has been called the "French Bernie Sanders," support French withdrawal from the European Union and euro as well as more protectionism, and even closing the border to refugees and banning the veil. "This is a very good example like Hayek used to say, where extremes actually join together," Emmanuel Martin, a French economist involved with libertarian MOOC Ecole de la Liberté, told Reason earlier this week. "Mélenchon-LePen, their program is 90 percent the same." Martin, who also describes himself as a libertarian rocker, even has a song about the tendency for such confluence in what we call the far right and the far left. "Mélenchon is the new Robespierre," Martin explained, referring to the French revolutionary leader associated with the Reign of Terror, "and to some extent he's very much like Bernie Sanders, but I think he's more evil… They both share this total illusion of democratic socialism, which to me is a complete oxymoron, and to any libertarian obviously." While terror attacks in France grab more headlines, the country has long-standing economic problems caused by too many labor regulations, too much centralization, and a lack of accountability in government. President Hollande's tough talk and concomitant actions on the war on terror failed to shore up support in the face of his failure to execute on economic reform. The former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, who was one of the architects of Hollande's belated turn away from socialism and attempt at some labor deregulation and other economic reforms, now has the highest polling average, at 23.6 percent. "He's trying to gather so many different people, that it's very difficult to find something solid, something really, he's just a basic politician, he's trying to please everyone," Martin explained. "And his speeches are completely hollow, just hot air, really, and sometimes you even laugh when you listen to him, because it's so empty." Nevertheless, there could be a bright side there. "Maybe that's t[...]

Turkey Vote in Favor of More Authoritarianism Was Not Free or Fair, Natch

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 20:15:00 -0400

Voters in Turkey narrowly approved a constitutional referendum that will transform Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential system—the victory for President Recep Erdogan solidifies a slide into authoritarianism he began more than a decade ago, an authoritarian slide which itself enabled the victory in the first place. The set of reforms in the referendum legalize "the de facto executive presidency that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already exercising," Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence, explained in a pre-election briefing shared with Reason. "In addition, it will grant him a vast number of additional powers that currently belong to other state institutions, without introducing the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard against a further authoritarian turn." The Turkish government is unlikely to try to begin normalizing its domestic policy despite the victory because of the slim margin. Piccoli explained such a margin furthers the risk of the repression. "Similarly, long promised and overdue structural economic reforms will most likely fail to materialize over the next 12 months as the harmonization of laws and institutions with the new executive presidency will take priority." "A pervading climate of fear and siege mentality are now deeply instilled in Turkish society and mounting concerns about vote rigging could deepen polarization and grievances," Piccoli said. Indeed, election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe complained of an "unlevel playing field" and last minute voting rules changes. "Voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and civil society organizations were not able to participate," the OSCE said in its statement. "Under the state of emergency put in place after the July 2016 failed coup attempt, fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed." For his part, Erdogan told opponents to give it up and stop "tiring themselves out" by challenging the referendum results (they did)—the Yes vote received 51.4 percent of the vote, and was pushed to victory in part by Turks voting abroad. According to state media, 63.1 percent of Turkish voters in Germany supported the referendum. Erdogan had resorted in the past month to comparing European leaders in Germany and elsewhere to Nazis for refusing to approve Turkish government-sponsored rallies in favor of the referendum in their countries. Turkey and Germany are both NATO members, although the constitutional results will likely halt whatever's left of Turkey's process of joining the European Union. Erdogan himself has suggested holding a referendum on whether Turkey should continue the 50-plus year process that came to a virtual stand-still shortly after accession talks officially began in 2005 when France and Austria promised to put Turkey's membership bid to a referendum vote themselves. EU officials have been warning the lack of political reforms in Turkey could cause talks to end in a "train crash" as early as 2007. Erdogan also said President Trump called to congratulate him on his victory.[...]

It's Past Time to Dump the OECD

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 08:45:00 -0400

Taxpayers are spending millions of dollars every year funding an army of bureaucrats who advocate higher taxes and bigger government around the globe. Last year, the United States sent $77 million to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the largest single contribution and fully 21 percent of the Paris-based bureaucracy's $370 million annual budget. Add to that several million dollars in additional expenses for special projects and the U.S. mission to the OECD. In theory, the OECD is a place "where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development." The OECD will occasionally publish papers on its website laying out the theoretical benefits of economic growth and smaller-government policies. In practice, despite the OECD's heavy reliance on American taxpayer funds, the organization persistently works against U.S. interests, arguing for international tax cartels, the end of privacy, redistribution schemes and other big-government fantasies. Take its campaign for tax harmonization, begun as a way to protect high-tax nations from bleeding more capital to lower-tax jurisdictions. In the minds of OECD bureaucrats, high-tax nations are entitled to all they can extract from people and companies. Individuals aren't legally allowed to shift their economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax policies if it hinders the ability of big governments in Europe to feed their domestic fiscal beast. The OECD may recognize competition is good in the private sector, but promotes cartelization policies to protect politicians. In 2000, the OECD singled out 41 nonmember countries and territories with lower tax rates and a healthy commitment to financial privacy as havens of supposedly unfair tax competition. OECD warned these countries to promptly discontinue their "unfair practices" or face the financial protectionism of its member countries. The goal was to pressure low-tax countries into increasing their tax rates or through automatic information-sharing schemes becoming deputy tax collectors for high-tax European nations. The bureaucrats, abetted by the European Union and the United Nations, even started clamoring for the creation of some kind of international tax organization, for global taxation and more explicit forms of tax harmonization. Unfortunately, after years of bullying, the statists have made tremendous progress. Targeted jurisdictions have agreed to sign tax information exchange agreements, weakening their human rights laws on financial privacy. Although we're not directly targeted, American taxpayers should be concerned about the OECD campaign. As one of the biggest tax havens in the world, the United States faces European pressure to comply with these awful policies. Tax harmonization results in a higher-tax environment and a weaker global economy. And without the checks on political greed that competition affords, we inevitably suffer. But that isn't all. For the sole purpose of a massive tax grab, the OECD is now targeting American corporations with excessive and expansive new reporting requirements. As David Burton of The Heritage Foundation has reported, this puts trade secrets unrelated to tax assessment in the hands of unscrupulous governments and makes proprietary data vulnerable to unauthorized access by third parties. After years documenting their disingenuous and downright statist work, Dan Mitchell with the Cato Institute found that OECD bureaucrats have repeatedly pushed Keynesian spending binges on countries trying hard to eliminate government red ink. At the same time they make unsubstantiated claims that "higher taxes would lead to more economic [...]

Brexit Negotiations Moving Forward

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 17:15:00 -0400

Brexit negotiations are on their way. Britian's government will begin the formal process on March 29, as reported by the Associated Press. To start the clock, Britain will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which details how member states can withdraw from the European Union. At that point, both sides will have until March 2019 to agree on a settlement, determining what the relationship between Britain and the E.U. will look like post-Brexit. The negotiations are crucial in determining future trade relations, travel restrictions, and financial services between Britain and the rest of Europe. There is much at stake, as the kind of deal Britain receives will signal to other E.U. members whether it is worth leaving or not. "They will all see from the U.K.'s example that leaving the E.U. is a bad idea," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, according to CNN. "On the contrary, the remaining member states will fall in love with each other again and renew their vows with the European Union." Membership in the E.U., as the Harvard Business Review explains, is characterized by four freedoms: the free movement across borders of people, services, goods, and capital. The journal notes that Britain is negotiating for continued tariff-free trade but with the ability to control it own borders. "The ideal outcome (and in my view the most likely, after a lot of wrangling) is continued tariff-free access," Brexit secretary David Davis said, per the Harvard Business Review article. "Once the European nations realize that we are not going to budge on control of our borders, they will want to talk, in their own interest." The sentiment is not shared by the E.U. "Half memberships and cherry-picking aren't possible," Juncker argued, according to reports from CNN. "In Europe you eat what's on the table or you don't sit at the table." It was this sort of Euro-centric conformity that fueled pro-Brexit support, as Reason editor at large Matt Welch explained back in January: Railing against the sovereignty-busting whims of overseas elites isn't just effective politics, it's also often right. The E.U. project has been liberating when it comes to free trade, privatization, and the movement of humans within its borders, but planners weren't content to stop there. They insisted on eradicating monetary sovereignty as well, implausibly lashing together the central banks of Germany and Greece, a system that leaves all participants perpetually (and rightfully) disgruntled. And the downside to pooling and outsourcing immigration policy has been all too clear these past few years, as locals have found some of their cities swollen with hard-to-assimilate migrants and refugees from war-torn Muslim regions of the Middle East and North Africa, without feeling like they had any say in the matter. Throw in what has become almost monthly acts of deadly Islamic terrorism on the continent, and the nationalist political reactions write themselves. For more Brexit speculation, read Cato Institute policy analyst Marian Tupy's contribution to Reason on how Britain can negotiate for a better withdrawal settlement.[...]

‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Legislation Attempts Foothold in New York

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:09:00 -0400

The state of New York wants to tell you what's appropriate to post online and what should be removed. The concept behind the European Union's "right to be forgotten" has crossed the Atlantic, and two state lawmakers in New York want to attempt to institute it here. The "right to be forgotten" in the European Union originated from a court ruling demanding Google and search engines remove links to a story that embarrassed a Spanish man because it detailed a previous home repossession. The story was not factually inaccurate. He insisted it was no longer relevant and that it embarrassed him, and the court agreed he had the right to have the information censored from search engines. Since 2014, search engines like Google have received hundreds of thousands of requests to have links to news reports removed and not because there's anything factually incorrect about them, but because the people within them are embarrassed by having the information public. Now, in New York, Assemblyman David Weprin and State Sen. Tony Avella (both Democrats) are attempting to implement such a law in the United States. The bill (readable here) appears remarkably far-reaching. It would allow people to demand that identifying information and articles about them to be removed from search engines or publishers if the content is "inaccurate," "irrelevant," inadequate," or "excessive." And yes, there are potentially fines involved ($250 dollars a day plus attorney's fees) for those who don't comply. Here's how the legislation defines the rather vague justifications for removal: [C]ontent, which after a significant lapse in time from its first publication, is no longer material to current public debate or discourse, especially when considered in the light of the financial, reputational and/or demonstrable other harm that the information, article or other content is causing to the requester's professional, financial, reputational or other interest, with the exception of content related to convicted felonies, legal matters relating to violence, or a matter that is of significant current public interest, and as to which the requester's role in regard to the matter is central and substantial. This would put the courts in the position of having the authority to declare what is or isn't relevant for the public to know. Reason asked First Amendment attorney Ken White of Brown, White & Osborn (and also of Popehat fame) for his analysis of the bill. He did not hold back in an emailed statement: This bill is a constitutional and policy disaster that shows no sign that the drafters made any attempt whatsoever to conform to the requirements of the constitution. It purports to punish both speakers and search engines for publishing—or indexing—truthful information protected by the First Amendment. There's no First Amendment exception for speech deemed "irrelevant" or "inadequate" or "excessive," and the rules for punishing "inaccurate" speech are already well-established and not followed by this bill. The bill is hopelessly vague, requiring speakers to guess at what some fact-finder will decide is "irrelevant" or "no longer material to current public debate," or how a fact-finder will balance (in defiance of the First Amendment) the harm of the speech and its relevance. The exceptions are haphazard and poorly defined, and the role of the New York Secretary of State in administering the law is unclear. This would be a bonanza for anyone who wanted to harass reporters, bloggers, search engines, and web sites to take down negative information, and would incentivize such harassment and inflict massive legal costs on anyone who wanted to stand up to a vexatious litigant. Also of relevance: The law extends the statute[...]

Makers of Blue Wine Thwarted by EU Regulations

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 12:15:00 -0500

(image) A group of young entrepreneurs from the Basque region of Spain who launched a new kind of blue wine in 2015 is now facing resistance from national and supranational bureaucrats. An anonymous complaint that the Spanish Wine Federation, which represents three-fourths of the country's wine producers, insists it did not file yielded a fine from Spain's agriculture ministry for violating wine regulations. The company that produces the blue wine, Gïk, has relabeled its product and added 1 percent grape must to avoid being considered a "pure wine."

"Under the European Union's oenological regulations," The New York Times explains, "whatever is not specifically authorized is considered illegal—and blue is not an approved color." Gïk has sold more than 120,000 bottles, with half being sold outside the EU, according to The Times. The young entrepreneurs who created the company had no background in winemaking, so they recruited a team of chemical engineers from University of Basque Country to develop the blue wine, which uses red and white grapes as well as a chemical from red grape skin and an organic food dye, indigotine, to achieve the blue color.

Taig Mac Carthy, one of the co-founders of Gïk, explained to The Times that they wanted to create something "more fun" for people who didn't particularly like "normal" wine. "The trouble is that we are trying to revolutionize an industry that has worked for centuries without making any change," Mac Carthy said, "and they control the rules of the game." The Spanish Wine Federation sees it differently. Their general-director told The Times that while they appreciated Gïk's initiative, "you have to respect the rules of the game, and they are for everybody."

"In Spain, wine is very linked to culture," Aritz López, another co-creator, told BBC last year. "It hasn't changed for centuries. This is a country that prefers tradition instead of innovation. But Gïk is trying to change that. We are for normal people that don't need to know thousands of rules in order to enjoy a glass."

Detailed rules on winemaking, however, are part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Two-thirds of wine production worldwide occurs in EU countries, which are required to enforce laws in line with the CAP. Attempts by governments to control the rules of what constitutes what kind of alcohol aren't new, and in the case of the EU illustrate how the concept of the free movement of goods has been burdened by layer after layer of unnecessary regulation. If the Spanish Wine Federation, or any voluntary national (or even international association) would like to define wine or any other alcohol for their members, that's part and parcel of free, voluntary markets. Such rules should not be forced by government, and certainly should not be conflated with or made a condition for free trade and movement—consumers should have the freedom to decide for themselves.